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Stiffer fines for attacks on service animals, under NJ proposal

Photo Credit: Roger Woodhour
Photo Credit: Roger Woodhour

YOU READ IT HERE FIRST: A measure that increases penalties for anyone who harms a service animal — including seeing eye or search-and-rescue dogs and other four-legged officers — is bound for a New Jersey Assembly vote.

Dusty (CLIFFVIEW PILOT photo, courtesy Roger Woodhour)

Meanwhile, proponents urged the Assembly Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee to also advance “Dusty’s Law,” which addresses dog-on-dog attacks and interference with service animals.

The second measure is named after Dusty, a seeing-eye puppy from Bergen County who was attacked in July 2010. Trainer Roger Woodhour, testified today that although his dog survived severe physical injuries, he couldn’t continue serving because of emotional distress.

Assemblyman Bob Schroeder, R-Bergen, co-sponsored both measures.

The first was co-sponsored by Assemblywoman Nancy Muñoz, R-Essex, Morris, Somerset and Union. It upgrades the crime of killing a dog, horse, or other animal owned or used by a law enforcement agency, or a search-and-rescue dog, from a third to a second-degree crime, and the crime of purposely maiming or inflicting harm upon a dog, horse or other animal owned or used by a law enforcement agency from a fourth to a third-degree crime.

Nancy Muñoz, Bob Schroeder

This creates the possibility not only of fines but also jail or prison sentences.

“Incidents of attack or interference on service animals, particularly guide dogs, are all-too-common,” said Schroeder. “We must do everything we can to protect service dogs and their handlers from harm as they go about their daily lives.”

Muñoz expressed hope that the measure raises awareness of the danger that interference poses to service animals as they work.

“The safety of the service dog handler depends on the dog’s ability to focus and concentrate on the task at hand,” said Muñoz. “These highly-trained animals provide a valuable service, and need to be treated respectfully while fulfilling their duties.”

A survey conducted in 2003 by The Seeing Eye in Morristown revealed that 89 percent of guide-dog users experience some form of interference by loose or uncontrolled dogs, and 42 percent have been attacked at least once.

Ginger Kutsch of The Seeing Eye testified before the committee today about a time when she and her guide dog were attacked by an unrestrained dog, and emphasized the need for added protections from such danger.

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